Which Is Better: McDonald's US Or Ireland?

Tell the vast majority of Americans that there's just enough time to swing through McDonald's for a quick lunch, and they already know exactly what they're going to order and what they're going to get. (Because, let's face it, while the photos are rarely representative of what comes out of that bag, actual items are pretty standard across the country.)

We don't even have to be near a McDonald's to know what walking through the door smells like, and what a Big Mac and fries is going to taste like. That got us wondering: McDonald's is a fast food restaurant that's largely the same whether you're in New York or California, but is an American Big Mac the same as a Big Mac ordered in other countries? Is calling it an "American Big Mac" legit? Do people in other countries think of something completely different when they think, "Big Mac," or even "McDonald's"?

Inquiring minds want to know, so we set out on a journey. We headed over to a McDonald's in Ireland to see just what those in the Emerald Isle get when they head through the drive-thru and order staples like Big Macs, chicken nuggets, and fries. And honestly? We were kind of shocked. Not only is a Big Mac a little different, but it's really different — and so are some of the other staples. That's not even starting to talk about all the other stuff that McDonald's in the U.S. just doesn't have, so... which is better?

Nutrition: Which is healthier?

In order to decide which country has the superior McDonald's, we took a look at some inarguable facts, starting with nutritional information.

It's nearly impossible to go through the entire menu, so let's take a look at some of the most commonly purchased items, starting with a Big Mac. In the U.S., a Big Mac has 550 calories, 30 grams of fat (with 11 grams saturated fat), 25 grams of protein, and 45 grams of carbs. In Ireland, a Big Mac is a bit healthier, with 508 calories, 25 grams of fat (with 9.5 grams saturated fat), 26 grams of protein, and 43 grams of carbs. 

Now, what about something even more basic, like a standard cheeseburger? In the U.S., one of these comes with 300 calories, 13 grams of fat (with 6 grams saturated fat), 15 grams of protein, and 32 grams of carbs. Over in Ireland, the calories in a cheeseburger are about the same — 301 — while there are 12 grams of fat (with 6 grams saturated fat), 16 grams of protein, and 31 grams of carbs.

Ireland ends up being the more health-conscious for another reason, too: Their menu comes with options for entire meals that come in under 600 calories, and another group of offerings at 400 calories or less. The former includes things like chicken sandwiches, Veggie Dippers, and a Spicy Veggie One meal, while the latter includes Veggie Dippers, McNuggets, and a Crispy Chicken Salad Meal.

Ingredients: What's the difference?

We're going to come back to the Big Mac for this one, since it's so iconic of the entire chain. We'll be honest and say that we were slightly confused by the Irish Big Mac, because it didn't seem to have the same amount of flavor as the American version. It was a little drier as well, and that didn't help matters.

Take a peek at the ingredients, and it starts to become clear what's going on here. While the American version of the Big Mac sauce kicks off with things like soybean oil, sweet relish made with pickles, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, vinegar, salt, and more corn syrup (before getting into things like water and egg yolks), the Irish version starts with water, rapeseed oil, gherkins, and vinegar.

Cheese is a big one, too: In the U.S., that "cheese" is milk, cream, water, sodium citrate, salt, cheese cultures, and some other enzymes. In Ireland, the cheese slices are still processed, but they're made from 51% cheddar, water, more cheese, whey powder, and butter, before all the extra enzymes and proteins.

We also tried the McChicken Sandwich in Ireland, and thought it tasted a little more like a chicken sandwich we might make at home. When we peeked at the ingredients, we noticed a small difference that might explain that: In Ireland, they're made from "chicken breast meat," while U.S. sandwiches are simply made of "boneless chicken."

What is the difference between Happy Meals?

Sorry, McDonald's U.S.: We picked up a Happy Meal in Ireland, and were super stoked to get a Little Miss Sparkle stuffed toy, so can you beat that? No. No, you cannot.

McDonald's has come under a lot of fire for their Happy Meals, and in the end of 2021, they announced (via CNN) their toys were getting a makeover worldwide. They were removing plastic toys, and swapping in things like trading cards. It's all being done in an attempt to reduce plastic waste, and while that's great, they're behind the curve in the U.S. In Ireland (and the U.K.), there haven't been plastic toys for a while, and kids (along with some adults that are probably way more excited than they should be) will get things like stuffed toys and books instead. Books!

The Happy Meals themselves are much more impressive in Ireland, too. While U.S. kids have a choice between getting a hamburger, a 4-piece McNuggets, or a 6-piece McNuggets, Irish kids have a wider selection to choose from, and can get a hamburger, cheeseburger, 4-piece McNuggets, Fish Fingers, or Veggie Dippers. The Irish version also has a melon fruit bag option, and while the U.S. version comes with fries, apple slices, and more drink options, let's be honest here: It's the toy and the main course that most kids are interested in, right?

McDonald's fries in Ireland versus the US

Fries are perhaps one of the most basic of sides, and that's what made it so shocking when we learned that there were a shocking 19 different ingredients that went into making McDonald's fries. Then we found out that they're not even vegetarian, and that was... well, it was sort of a life-changing realization.

Things have changed a bit since we learned about those 19 ingredients, but there's still a lot that goes into making McDonald's fries — and no, they're still not vegetarian... at least, not in the U.S. Although McDonald's has cleaned them up a bit, those American fries are made with natural beef flavor, dextrose, salt, sodium acid pyrophosphate, and oils including canola, corn, soybean, and hydrogenated soybean.

Which brings us to Ireland, who wins this one, too: Their fries contain only potatoes and dextrose, and they're fried in a blend of sunflower and rapeseed oil. And yes, that means in Ireland, McDonald's fries are vegetarian-friendly.

Interestingly, Irish fries are simply called "McDonald's Fries," while the American version is billed as "World Famous Fries." Odd, considering that version is not as worldwide as it might seem.

So, what about the taste? While the fries we got in Ireland didn't have the same golden brown color and satisfying crunch that our American fries usually do, they were still pretty good. They definitely take care of that craving, and we can appreciate the fact that they're vegetarian-friendly, too.

Vegetarian and vegan options

We're big fans of places that cater to all kinds of people with different dietary restrictions, and that's why we have to say that after visiting a McDonald's in Ireland, we're super disappointed in the U.S. locations.

According to Women's Health, it wasn't until the end of 2020 that McDonald's announced they were joining almost every other restaurant in the country and offering a vegan option — the McPlant burger. Until that happens, vegan options aren't great, and involve things like apple slices, the side salad, and some of the dressings.

Being vegetarian isn't much better, with menu options like hotcakes, hash browns, and... well, there's always those apple slices.

That's why we were shocked to learn that in Ireland, McDonald's has a whole section of their menu dedicated to vegetarian and vegan options. There's the McPlant burger, a Vegetable Deluxe, and Veggie Dippers, which are chicken-finger-shaped sticks made with peas, red pepper, onion, tomato, and various kinds of flours. We tried them in the form of the Spicy Veggie One, which is a wrap with a few dippers, lettuce, tomato, and a spicy relish all tucked inside. Not only is that one vegan certified, but it's almost ridiculously good. The Veggie Dippers have a brilliant crunch, the relish was pleasantly spicy, the tortilla was soft, and the lettuce was crisp. It's so good, we'd heartily recommend this to anyone who's not even vegan, and it's nice to see some filling, full-meal style options for those who are.

McCafe offerings

This is where we have to say we were a little disappointed in Ireland's McDonald's, and here's why. In the U.S., the McCafe menu has gotten a ton of attention for years, and according to news outlets like CBS, the idea was to take on Starbucks with affordable options for coffee-drinkers who didn't want to spent $7 on a cup, but wanted something that wasn't just a standard drip coffee. 

The coffees they came out with — including things like their cappuccinos, macchiatos, mochas, and lattes — are really, really good. You can get something that's flavored with French vanilla, something chocolatey, something with caramel... in short, McDonald's in the U.S. succeeded in giving more mainstream coffee shops a run for their money. 

Ireland also has the McCafe menu, but it's nowhere near as extensive. There are no flavored cappuccinos, no macchiatos, and the only cold option — a caramel iced frappe — isn't available everywhere. The salted caramel latte we tried was really good, but given that we were in the mood for an iced coffee they just didn't have, it left us with the teeniest, tiniest little hole in our soul.


So, here's the question: You're craving something sweet, and you swing through the drive-thru of a McDonald's sitting just off of Main Street in Small-Town, USA. Well, considering there's a good chance the ice cream machine is down, you can get an apple pie or an apple fritter, cinnamon roll, or blueberry muffin from the McCafe Bakery line. You could also go for a smoothie — strawberry-banana or mango-pineapple — but let's be honest: You're pulling out and going to Dairy Queen, right?

McDonald's Ireland doesn't have the smoothies (although some locations do have a strawberry lemonade that's nothing short of amazing), but do you know what you can get there? Donuts! Not just any donuts, either — they have a sugar donut that's so good you'll think they took some notes from Krispy Kreme, and a millionaire's donut that's filled and iced with caramel, topped with cookie crumbles, and drizzled in chocolate. Just do yourself a favor, and get a dozen.

Was the ice cream machine down in Ireland?

It's no secret that in the U.S., there's such a high likelihood of McDonald's Ice cream machines being down that we've done a full-scale investigation into what's going on. Did we have that problem in Ireland? Nope — and we were seriously impressed by our choices.

In the U.S., customers can opt for an Oreo or M&Ms McFlurry, a vanilla cone, a chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry shake, or some sundaes. Those are all fine options, but they're not the sort of thing that makes you think about that McFlurry again the next day, and do some serious reminiscing.

McDonald's Ireland has all the shakes, along with the Oreo McFlurry and a Smarties McFlurry (which is comparable to M&Ms). But they also have a Malteasers McFlurry (which is a candy that's similar to Whoppers), and a Cadbury Crunchie McFlurry, which is what we went for. (For anyone who's never had a Crunchie bar, it's basically a honeycomb sponge covered in chocolate, and it's amazing.) Imagine a McFlurry, filled with pieces of chocolate and honeycomb candy, with a swirl of "honeycomb sauce." It may have been smaller than those US counterparts, but it was so rich, we were absolutely fine with a smaller serving. Bonus? It's not only delicious, but it's pretty much perfect for dipping those fries in. Was there reminiscing? Yes, yes there was.

And yes, just to clear things up, McDonald's Ireland does offer the Shamrock Shake every St. Patrick's Day. (And it's "Paddy's," if you must.)

Who has the better selection of sauces?

Good news, America: You win, hands down. Sauces are a must for any good fast food experience, and McDonald's U.S. delivers. In addition to the standard like mustard and ketchup, there's also BBQ, creamy ranch, a Buffalo sauce, a sweet-and-sour, and a honey mustard, along with just a straightforward honey. They've also loosened up the restrictions on being stingy with the Big Mac sauce — something Ireland briefly did early in 2020 — and made that purchasable by the tub, too.

Ireland's sauces are a little different: There's the standard BBQ, but we were also given a sweet-and-sour dipping sauce, and a curry sauce. We tried them all, and while they're good, they're just not as good — or as versatile — as the American sauces. The sweet n' sour was a little too sweet — almost weirdly. The curry was the better of the two odd ones, and it was a pretty standard (but slightly sweeter) version of the curry sauce you can find in almost any chip shop.

Which McDonald's is the better deal?

The one thing we were surprised not to see when we pulled up to an Irish McDonald's was a Dollar Menu — or, more precisely, a Euro Menu. We've all been at that point when we're super hungry, but only have some change that we found in the cup holder on hand — and McDonald's is always there, like the faithful friend who's willing to hook you up with some lunch.

We very quickly noticed that even accounting for the difference in currency, Ireland was across the board a little more expensive. A $3.99 Big Mac in the U.S. was around $4.75 in Ireland, and while a McDouble is on America's Dollar Menu, Ireland's smaller, single-patty cheeseburgers were slightly more than $1. The 9-piece McNuggets were a little over $5 in Ireland, but a U.S. 10-piece is around $4.50.

Overall, it wasn't a huge difference — but Ireland definitely skewed on the more expensive side, and part of that might come down to ingredients and buying power. While there are more than 14,000 McDonald's restaurants scattered across the U.S., AtlasBig says there are only around 89 in Ireland.

Who has the bigger menu?

This one, too, goes to the US.

Ireland's menu is pretty straightforward, with many items being variations of one another. The chicken wraps, for example, came in BBQ bacon and sweet chilli, but they're basically the same thing. It was the same deal with the chicken sandwiches, called the Legend: there were technically three, but they were all just the same sandwich with different sauces. Burgers were pretty much the same burger with a different number of patties, and ultimately, there was nowhere near the amount of options and choices that are on an American menu.

That's definitely true once you start getting into the chicken sandwiches, and the specialty offerings like the McRib. The U.S. McDonald's also seem to have a wider range of promotions, specials, and meal deals, which is a massive bonus if you're out for lunch with some friends and coworkers. Prefer to try something different every time you go out to eat, instead of relying on the same old standbys? Go to the good ol' US of A.

So, bottom line: Which McDonald's is better?

And, here it is: Which is better?

In order to make this as objective as possible, let's look at a few things we learned that aren't based on personal opinion. Even though it's a little more expensive to go to McDonald's in Ireland, they have some serious things going for them: Not only are menu items better for you, but their ingredients are a little more straightforward. Cheese, remember, is real cheese, and that's a big deal.

We here at Mashed write plenty about what it takes to get a really good steak, and what to do with those chicken breasts to guarantee you'll have a different meal every time you cook them. But we also have a huge respect for those people who choose to go meat-free, and we have to give Ireland's McDonald's some serious kudos for presenting people with delicious, meat-free and even vegan options that make up a whole meal.

Sure, the U.S.'s McCafe blew Ireland's out of the water, but we were super excited to see McDonald's in Ireland getting away from plastics — particularly in the Happy Meals — and offering kids the chance to get books with their burgers. Add in the availability of their ice cream and the sheer deliciousness of their Crunchie McFlurry, and there you have it: When it comes to McDonald's, Ireland just does it better. Slainte!